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Riverwest Investment Co-op Purchases Home to Rehab

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss

The Riverwest Investment Co-op (RIC) saved a historic house from the wrecking ball last month. Literally. As soon as RIC’s property committee discovered and put in an offer on the roofless brick house at 2543 N. Holton, the “yellow lines from the demo man” in front of the house alerted them to its scheduled demolition, said Dana Cable, a member of the committee. They then had to run down city officials with a check for $2,400 to stop the wrecking ball. Now the group is the proud owner of a brick house without running water or working mechanicals and is looking to begin the rehab process. They are also looking for a potential buyer. “The earlier someone expresses interest, the more it can be rehabbed to their specifications,” said Cable, who helped come up with rehab estimates for the property. If you haven’t heard of RIC, it may be because the group is still in its infancy. But expect to hear more from them in the future if their current plans are any indication. RIC’s goal is to buy distressed properties in the area, perform the necessary repairs, and sell the house, at a reasonable price, to an owner occupant. The intended result? To improve neighborhood stability and the value of Riverwest homes without directly threatening its diversity. In less than a year, the co-op has raised about $30,000 from members and investors, who can earn a modest profit (up to 3 percent). Additional profits would go back into the business. RIC is launching a fund-raising drive to raise an additional $30,000 before the end of the year. “We’re pooling community capital to direct sustainable and positive community development,” Wilder said. “We want to keep and raise social capital — to help people stay here and own (a house) rather than getting pushed out by rising prices.” RIC depends on invested capital from community-minded individuals — and while this kind of investment in a fledgling organization may seem like a leap of faith to some, the amount they have already raised puts them on solid footing. Additionally, the organization has a well-defined structure in place to accomplish its goals. The group, which includes people with backgrounds and experience in accounting, marketing, architecture, and construction, meets the first Wednesday of each month at the YMCA CDC office at 604 E. Center St. “A lot of people are putting their heads together and harnessing their collective energy,” Wilder said of the group. The organization is the brainchild of several Riverwest residents who were looking for a way to address concerns about gentrification and neighborhood stability in a new way. Unlike similar organizations (many residents may be familiar with ESHAC’s previous work in the neighborhood), RIC is not tied to grant money and will not depend on block grants or foundations for its success. Since the group is a co-operative, investors take part in decision-making. “We have been told by organizations around the U.S. that what we’re doing is a unique endeavor,” Wilder pointed out. “No one has heard of anything quite like this — and they think it’s great!” But Wilder also points out that it’s not unchartered territory — organizations on the West Side have operated in similar ways and been successful with a Limited Liability Corporation structure. The way the co-op was originally set up, someone would have to buy a member share for $1000 to get involved. But the group recently opened up to investors or owners who want to buy additional shares at $100 per share. Shares do not count towards membership. RIC is also getting ready to offer sweat equity shares, at 10 hours of work per share, for people interested in doing rehab work. “We’re committed to offering a fair (resale) price, but we do guarantee that profits will be returned to owners,” Wilder said. Want to find out more about RIC or support its work? Attend an Open House at Linneman’s Wednesday, November. 19, at 7 p.m. to see a presentation about RIC and find out how you can invest in Riverwest. Also check out www.riverwestinvest.com, or e-mail
by Sonya Jongsma Knauss